Nebraska’s Jeff Smith has a two-point conversion pass from Turner Gill batted away in the fourth quarter against Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl.

Jan. 2, 1984

It’s a funny thing: Nebraska’s failed two-point conversion in the 1984 Orange Bowl can be viewed as both one of the greatest and toughest moments in Husker football history. It was the ultimate punch to the stomach for Nebraska fans, with Turner Gill’s pass deflecting off Miami’s Ken Calhoun just enough to keep Jeff Smith from hauling it in. “If the throw’s 4 inches the other way, we’re 13-0 and national champs,” Gill said. Instead, a 31-30 win for Miami. Another national championship opportunity denied for Tom Osborne’s Huskers.

And yet, even in the moments after the game ended, and certainly in the years afterward, the play is worn as a badge by the Husker program and those who follow it. “Tom Osborne made this decision a long time ago. Don’t think that this situation caught him by surprise,” NBC commentator John Brodie said just seconds before the play. “He’s decided to go for two and take a shot at winning, and I commend him for it.” A tie would have given Nebraska the title. But going for the win won people’s respect. Of course, the decision to go for two never really was viewed as a decision by Osborne. After a dramatic 24-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-8 option play, the NBC cameras immediately found Osborne sending in the play. “Football is a game, and you play games to win,” Osborne said when it was over.

Eleven years later, in the same Orange Bowl Stadium, Osborne got that monster win against Miami. Patience has its rewards.

— Brian Christopherson

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